Skip to main content

Everything that disappears in the Bermuda Triangle… Well, this is where they end up.

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
(2013)

Thor Freudenthal’s half-hearted sequel to Chris Columbus’ 2010 sub-Harry Potter Young Adult adaptation reeks of a budget-strapped follow-up. Movies that don’t feel the urge to hit the two-hour finish line are fine by me, but when the quest for Golden Fleece is a one-stop shop it’s clear something has gone seriously awry somewhere. While there are a couple of sprightly elders livening up the supporting roles, Sea of Monsters mostly fails to pass muster, even stood next to its slight but likeable predecessor.


Reputedly costing less than The Lightning Thief, the bean counters obviously decided it made financial sense based on that movie’s post-theatrical earnings. That is, it got made by the skin of its teeth. Everyone is looking for the next Potter, then the next Twilight and now the next Hunger Games. Percy Jackson takes its cues of destiny’s child from Potter, along with the assorted sidekicks/ mentor types, but it also hearkens to Chronicles of Narnia in its overt references to religion/mythology (Christianity, the Greek pantheon). Narnia also scraped together a (second) sequel based on long-term maths rather than instant benefits after Prince Caspian floundered.


So Sea of Monsters has to make do with a director of a mid-range comedies (Hotel for Dogs, Diary of a Wimpy Kid) and the loss of the entirety of the adult cast of Lightning Thief (so no Brosnan, Bean, McKidd. Thurman, Dawson or Coogan). Anthony Head fills in comfortably for Brosnan as Chiron, a Rupert Giles-type professor with four hooves. Stanley Tucci makes one of his dazzling cameos as Mr D (did they think calling him Dionysus would be too potent a signifier of debauchery?), perpetually attempting to fill a glass of fine wine only for it to transform to water before he is able to drink a drop (at Zeus’ decree). He also has a winningly disreputable taste for stealing ideas and palming them off as his own. Nathan Fillion cameos as Hermes, the father of the not-that-threatening-really returning bad teen Luke (Jake Abel, who gets the occasional decent line delivery, ”What are you doing? Don’t walk on my roof!” but lacks a sense of genuine menace). Fillion, still eating all the pies, is content to dine out on the decade old memory of Firefly (Hercules Busts Heads; “The best TV show ever, so, of course, cancelled”).


The adult support aside, it’s Brandon T Jackson as satyr Grover who yet again steals the show (it’s questionable why no one comments on satyrs being naked from the waist down, centaurs too; is it only because there’s a lot of hair concealing their bits?). When he’s not off screen and captured, that is. He disappears for a long period, but instantly reaps the laughs when he resurfaces disguised as a lady Cyclops. Logan Lerman has an open-faced guilelessness that could prove irritating if he wasn’t also a decent actor. He isn’t especially well-served by Percy, a strictly predictable role of good-natured heroism fuelled by a ready supply of platitudes. Not helping matters is the introduction of his sub-Ted “Theodore” Logan half-brother, Tyson (Douglas Smith); he’s a dozy but brave dread-head Cyclops. Alexandra Daddio returns as Annabeth (the Hermione role), Athena’s daughter) while Leven Rambin is Clarisse, a headstrong and haughty half-daughter of Ares. These bastard offspring are rendered quite innocuous by the dedicatedly unremarkable storytelling.


Any given high point of Greek mythology is ironed into anodyne shape, complete with strange connections between given legends presumably decided by pulling names out of a hat. Luke plans to resurrect the Titan Kronos, father of Zeus (a victim of mass patricide, although to be fair he did have a habit of eating his own brood). His remains just happen to reside in a casket that bears a strong resemblance to Raiders’ ark (Titan himself is more you standard issue demonic horned god type, when he is mustered). To complete this task Luke requires the Golden Fleece, a rather non-descript piece of rug here but one with the handy power to heal pretty much anything and everything.  In turn, Percy requires it to save the tree that protects Camp Half-Blood (there’s a first draft site name if ever there was one).


The Fleece is guarded over by Polyphemus the Cyclops, who for some reason now lives on Circe’s island. In the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. This mish-mash might have been all right if used to blend elements into an inventive melange, but the result is consistently limp. On the plus side there’s a whacky car journey with the Graeae that is at least lively. It takes the one-eyed sisters and sticks them in a demonic taxicab that could be an outtake from Bill Murray’s Scrooged. The insides of Charybdis seem to have been half-inspired by Gilliam’s Baron Munchausen, but such inventiveness is few and far between.


It’s nice to see a hippocampus, but why is it even necessary when Percy is travelling across water… which he has command over? The special effects aren’t so special either, especially for a movie that reportedly wasn’t that cheap, as if all designers just couldn’t summon any enthusiasm. And that’s Sea of Monsters all over. It’s okay, and there’s at least more life than in those dismayingly charmless Sam Worthington Perseus flicks, but its still quite sad to see such rich material wasted so profusely.


Sea of Monsters didn’t do that much less business than the first so, with a fourth Narnia tentatively planned, The Titan’s Curse may well follow. But if this series does, just about, continue to make sense financially, at some point the producers will be forced to recast, drastically reduce the budgets (they may well end up as straight-to-DVD fare), or even reboot it in a TV incarnation. To realistically ride the crest of the Potter wave Percy needed to become a movie series almost as soon as its 2005 novel debut, not five years later. As I understand it, the Jackson faithful aren’t that keen on the way the makers keep messing with the books, giving the movies even less reason to be. This is a series where it’s left to the supporting characters maintain the interest and where the myths are so neutered as to be virtually unrecognisable. Also, the title’s misleading. I could only count one (monster).


**1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

Stupid adult hands!

Shazam! (2019)
(SPOILERS) Shazam! is exactly the kind of movie I hoped it would be, funny, scary (for kids, at least), smart and delightfully dumb… until the final act. What takes place there isn’t a complete bummer, but right now, it does pretty much kill any interest I have in a sequel.

I have discovered the great ray that first brought life into the world.

Frankenstein (1931)
(SPOILERS) To what extent do Universal’s horror classics deserved to be labelled classics? They’re from the classical Hollywood period, certainly, but they aren’t unassailable titans that can’t be bettered – well unless you were Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan trying to fashion a Dark Universe with zero ingenuity. And except maybe for the sequel to the second feature in their lexicon. Frankenstein is revered for several classic scenes, boasts two mesmerising performances, and looks terrific thanks to Arthur Edeson’s cinematography, but there’s also sizeable streak of stodginess within its seventy minutes.

Only an idiot sees the simple beauty of life.

Forrest Gump (1994)
(SPOILERS) There was a time when I’d have made a case for, if not greatness, then Forrest Gump’s unjust dismissal from conversations regarding its merits. To an extent, I still would. Just not nearly so fervently. There’s simply too much going on in the picture to conclude that the manner in which it has generally been received is the end of the story. Tarantino, magnanimous in the face of Oscar defeat, wasn’t entirely wrong when he suggested to Robert Zemeckis that his was a, effectively, subversive movie. Its problem, however, is that it wants to have its cake and eat it.

Do not mention the Tiptoe Man ever again.

Glass (2019)
(SPOILERS) If nothing else, one has to admire M Night Shyamalan’s willingness to plough ahead regardless with his straight-faced storytelling, taking him into areas that encourage outright rejection or merciless ridicule, with all the concomitant charges of hubris. Reactions to Glass have been mixed at best, but mostly more characteristic of the period he plummeted from his must-see, twist-master pedestal (during the period of The Village and The Happening), which is to say quite scornful. And yet, this is very clearly the story he wanted to tell, so if he undercuts audience expectations and leaves them dissatisfied, it’s most definitely not a result of miscalculation on his part. For my part, while I’d been prepared for a disappointment on the basis of the critical response, I came away very much enjoying the movie, by and large.

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.